By RICK PETERSON
Editor's note: TopSports.news has finished its tour of preseason football practices at all 10 Shawnee County high schools and will post preview stories over the coming days leading into the opening games of the 2022 season Sept. 1-3.
Rossville graduated some very talented seniors off last year's Bulldawg team that claimed a second straight Class 2A state title while running its winning streak to 26 games with a second straight 13-0 season.
But although the players may change, Rossville coach Derick Hammes says the Bulldawgs' expectations to challenge for a state championship never will.
"Not here, and that's not just from the community,'' said Hammes, who has led Rossville to five state titles over the past eight seasons. "We expect things from ourselves, too, so expectations are going to be high.
"We want to succeed, we want to win, we want to be the best we can be and I think it's more just having pride in yourself versus having something to prove to somebody else. I think we just kind of have a pride among ourselves to be the best we can be.''
Rossville will have to replace the likes of star quarterback Torrey Horak, running back Corey Catron and standout lineman Brody Lietz, but the Bulldawgs return five starters on offense and four on defense to build this year's team around.
Among the returners are senior TopSports.news All-Shawnee County Top 22 offensive and defensive lineman Jacob Carver as well as returning senior starters Kade Perine (wide receiver/defensive back), Mahliq Jackson (offensive lineman), Braiden Hensley (running back), Trenton Barker (linebacker) and junior two-way starter Barrett Lietz (offensive/defensive lineman).
Perine, Lietz, Jackson and Barker all received postseason honors a year ago.
"If I was to describe our summer, we found out a lot about ourselves, what we can and can't do,'' said Hammes, who is 96-15 at the school. "And honestly I think going through the first week of camp we've made improvement from where we were at the end of June and the middle part of July, so I'm really happy with the things that we've corrected and the things we've improved on. But probably like everybody else, we've got a lot a long way to go.
"We lost some star power offensively but the back end of our defense, our ability to cover, is something that we're going to have to work on. We're adressing both areas and kids are improving and I would say there's still some position battles to be won.''
Junior Camden Horak, sophomore Tayson Horak and Perine are all in the picture to take over for Torrey Horak at quarterback, with Perine a jack of all trades for the Bulldawgs.
"For us, Kade Perine is an ace in the hole because he can do a handful of different things, Hammes said.
Rossville opens the season with three straight road games, including the Sept. 2 season-opener at St. Marys.
One of the most intriguing games on Rossville's regular-season schedule will be a Week 3 road game at Hayden, a perennial state contender in 4A and now 3A.
Hammes, a former assistant at Hayden earlier in his career, said he looks forward to the matchup with the Wildcats.
"I have no problem playing a competitive schedule and that's how it worked out and we'll line up and do what we have to do,'' Hammes said of the Hayden matchup. "That will be a great challenge for us and we'll find out a lot about ourselves by playing a game like that.''
2022 football schedule
September -- 2 at St. Marys, 9 at Riley County, 16 at Hayden, 23 Atchison County, 30 at Silver Lake.
October -- 7 Holton, 14 Pleasant Ridge, 21 at Maur Hill, 28 Playoffs.
Next up: Seaman.